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Home » Talking About Meltdowns »

Handling a Full-Blown Explosion

Boy: I'm not going to Grandma's house!! Dad: I see how angry you are. What's made you so mad?

Working Through a Tantrum Is Important

"A tantrum is not a bad thing, it is actually an important developmental experience all kids need to have. Kids who don't learn to express powerful feelings may have more trouble expressing them later. Therefore your goal may not be to stop the tantrum, but instead to help your child work through it in a way that's right for his development."

Gillian McNamee, Ph.D.

Director of Teacher Education, Erikson Institute

Let the tantrum run its course as long as no one is being hurt. "This is really crucial," says Michael Thompson. "A child who is filled with raw feelings may not know how to manage them. But the child may feel reassured by your calmer presence. Then, you get back to the business of communicating."

Keep your own strong feelings separate from the tantrum. While it's often important to show your child what you feel, "entering" his tantrum with your own anger may only escalate the situation. Take a breath, speak calmly, even leave the room and give yourself a time out if you need to.

Try to comfort your child physically. Each child reacts to rage differently. Some will want to be held, others want to be left alone. If it seems right, you might try holding your child, if he will let you. If your child struggles ferociously, let go as long as no one will get hurt.

Try to avoid threats in the heat of the moment. "The moment you make irrational threats with punishments that do not suit the occasion, you are not talking about the topic anymore," advises Michael Thompson. "If you say, 'If you do that I will ground you,' the child starts to fight the grounding and the original issue is lost." Instead, offer a specific, reasonable consequence and explain why.

Seek professional help if you see a repeated, chronic pattern that you can't figure out. If defiance or anger escalates and becomes increasingly difficult to deal with, and if nothing works over a period of weeks or months, there may be an underlying issue that needs professional help. You can find a referral through a pediatrician, guidance counselor at your child's school, a friend, neighbor, community center or place of worship.

Remember: Other people's kids have tantrums too. Talk to your friends and find out what they do, what they say and how they survive!

NEXT: I Can't Believe I Said That!

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